Here’s a little collaboration between me and a colleague of mine at Six Red Marbles about jargon in the education space. Spoiler alert: I hate jargon. Mind you, I don’t mind vocabulary, but jargon to me speaks of language designed to exclude and to obfuscate actual understanding.
What’s the Buzz?
By Jennifer Livengood and Margaret Weigel
Jennifer: Learning Designers use dozens of buzzwords to describe what they do and Margaret and I decided to come up with some of them off the top of our heads:
Margaret: Emotional Intelligence
Jennifer: Social Constructivism
Margaret: Flipped Classrooms
Margaret: Adaptive Learning
Margaret :The Cloud!
Jennifer: There are other terms commonly heard amongst packs of hard-working learning designers: Androgogy, blended learning, asynchronous,, F2F, LMS, assessment, gamification, game-based learning, emotional intelligence, whole-student learning, grit, multiple intelligences, and student-centered learning.
Margaret: Stop, I’m getting dizzy. Or maybe I’m getting ‘buzzy.’
Jennifer: Why do we use these buzzwords, or to take a more general viewpoint, why do we use buzzwords at all?
Margaret: First, let’s define what we mean by ‘buzzwords.’ They’re usually common terms that are just as commonly misused and misunderstood. It’s not their fault. These concepts are typically perfectly harmless, well-meaning ideas. In fact, that’s part of the problem. They’re victims of their own success. Everyone wants to use them. And, with mixed results, everyone does.
Jennifer: I have an untested theory that people may misuse buzzwords in a well-meaning attempt to appear informed about rapidly-changing ideas. Learning design is filled with new research on how humans learn and new technologies that enhance the learning experience every day. Keeping up on the newest technology or learning theory can be difficult during a typical work week and buzz words help make new, and confusing, technologies and theories seem more digestible.
Margaret: Jennifer is far more gracious about the infestation of buzzwords than I am. I may be lacking in some EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE. Every discipline has its dedicated vocabulary, and when used well, these words help to convey complicated concepts quickly and easy. When used poorly, however, the very usefulness and definition of these words is put to the test. Words become buzzwords when they are frequently used without knowing what they fully mean, usually as a way to jump on a popular idea.
Jennifer: When I was a professor, I found myself telling colleagues that I used a “blended” or “flipped classroom” format to teach my course because it was easier than saying I teach a class that is partly online and partly face-to-face. Also saying I taught “flipped” or “blended” courses sounded more avant garde, and well buzzy!
Margaret: If you were using the term correctly, they probably knew what you were talking about. Buzzwords aren’t in and of themselves evil. Their power can also be harnessed for good.
Jennifer: I found the more I investigated this classroom format, the less likely I was to use fancy buzzwords. I was comfortable saying I taught a course that had multiple formats or I taught a course where students were online for part of it. It almost felt phony to use buzzwords after a while.
Margaret: I’m guilty of misusing buzzwords on occasion. But I am only partially ashamed of this transgression. As new concepts emerge, their definition often remains fuzzy until the concept is put into practice for a period of time. There’s also that challenge of understanding the totality of an idea. I liken it to how I’ve used PhotoShop for twenty years at this point and I still have never used or fully understood what 3D Extrusion mode is or what the video options can do. Perhaps we need a better way to express parts of an idea. Perhaps we’ll develop language for that over time.
Jennifer: Buzzwords can help us define something that is new, and perhaps bewildering, and offer us an entry point into thinking about a learning design method or theory. Leaving the conversation and professional development on the buzzword level does not offer us much intellectual depth. Buzzwords are a good entry point into starting a conversation about new learning design methods.
Margaret: Agreed. However, we suggest a more authentic approach of digging in to the design or theory and discovering the nuts and bolts of how methods and theories actually work. Knowing this on-the-ground information can help us describe what is really happening in the learning experience and further our understanding beyond the surface of the buzzwords.